Jay Wright Forrester

Born July 14, 1918, Climax, Neb.; Massachusetts Institute of Technology leader of the Whirlwind Project and inventor of the random-access magnetic core memory matrices. [The "invention" of the magnetic core as a memory device is claimed by An Wang. Forrester developed the addressing mechanism which made it a practical random-access system.]

Education: BSc, University of Nebraska, 1939; SM, MIT, 1945.

Professional Experience: MIT: member, staff Servomechanisms Laboratory, 1940-1946, director, Digital Computer Laboratory, 1946-1951, head, Digital Computer Division, Lincoln Laboratory, 1951-1956, professor of management, 1956-1972, Germeshausen professor, 1972-1989, Germeshausen professor emeritus and senior lecturer, 1989-present.

Honors and Awards: DEng, University of Nebraska, 1954; National Academy of Engineering, 1967; DSc, Boston University, 1969; Valdemar Poulsen Gold Medal, Danish Academy of Technical Sciences, 1969; DEng, Newark College of Engineering, 1971; Medal of Honor, Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, 1972; System, Man, and Cybernetics Award for Outstanding Accomplishment, IEEE, 1972; Benjamin Franklin Fellow, Royal Society of Arts, London, 1972; DEng, Union College, 1973; DEng, University of Notre Dame, 1974; Howard N. Potts Award, Franklin Institute, 1974; honorary member, Society of Manufacturing Engineers, 1976; [For contributions to the digital control of machine tools.] Harry Goode Memorial Award, American Federation of Information Processing Societies, 1977; Doctor of Political Science, University of Mannheim, Germany, 1979; Inventors Hall of Fame, 1979; Computer Pioneer Award, IEEE Computer Society, 1982; Jay W. Forrester Chair in Computer Studies at MIT, endowed by Thomas J. Watson, Jr., 1986; James R. Killian, Jr., Faculty Achievement Award, MIT, 1987; honorary professor, Shanghai Institute of Technology, China, 1987; Information Storage Award, IEEE Magnetics Society, 1988; Doctor of Humane Letters, State University of New York, 1988; US National Medal of Technology (with Robert R. Everett), 1989; Pioneer Award, IEEE Aerospace and Electronic Systems Society (with Robert R. Everett), 1990; DPhil, University of Bergen, Norway, 1990; fellow, IEEE; fellow, Academy of Management; fellow, American Academy of Arts and Sciences; fellow, American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Forrester became interested in digital computing when a project to develop a Navy aircraft stability analyzer was determined to be too difficult for an analog computer. The characteristics of the system required a fast, accurate, general-purpose machine. Perry Crawford, then with the Special Devices Center of the US Navy, suggested the use of a digital system. Forrester took charge of the design and construction of Whirlwind I, but discovered that the delay line and electrostatic memory systems being used in other digital machines of the time would not permit the construction of a machine which met the reliability and speed requirements. From this need Forrester developed the basic concept of random-access storage in 1947 based on glow-discharge cells, and later recast the concept in 1949 as toroidal, random-access, coincident-current magnetic storage that became the standard internal memory for computers for nearly 30 years. By 1951, the Whirlwind computer was in operation, but by then the purpose of the machine had been changed to support the planning and design of the SAGE (Semi-Automatic Ground Environment) Air Defense System.

In 1956 Forrester became professor of management at MIT's Alfred P. Sloan School of Management, where he established the field of system dynamics for determining how the structure and policies of physical, social, and environmental systems determine growth, oscillation, and stability. He has developed the System Dynamics National Model for understanding economic fluctuations. The model demonstrates the underlying theory of the economic long wave (or Kondratieff cycle) that has created the great depressions of the 1830s, 1890s, 1930s, and probably of the 1990s. From his work in understanding complex systems has come the international System Dynamics Society and applications to corporate management, economic behavior, medicine, urban growth and decay, and world population and environmental forces. Most recently, system dynamics is becoming a foundation for an integrated educational framework in junior and senior high schools.


"The pioneering days in digital computers were exciting times. Computer development was part of the last hundred years of technological discovery. However, the major challenges facing society will not be solved by still more technology. The next hundred years will be the age of social and economic discovery. The field of system dynamics, with which I have been associated since 1956, has pioneered in understanding how organizational structures and decision-making policies interact to produce desirable and undesirable behavior in physical, biological, environmental, business, and social systems. I see this next frontier in social systems as far more exciting and important than was the technological frontier."

"There is now promise of reversing the trend of the last century toward ever greater fragmentation in education. There is real hope of moving back toward the 'Renaissance man' idea of a common teachable core of broadly applicable concepts. We can now visualize an integrated, systemic, educational process that is more efficient, more appropriate to a world of increasing complexity, and more supportive of unity in life. Several high schools, curriculum-development projects, and colleges are using a system dynamics core to build study units in mathematics, science, social studies, and history."



Evans, Christopher, "Conversation: Jay W. Forrester," Ann. Hist. Comp., Vol. 5, No. 3, 1983, pp. 297-301; also available as an audiotape, "Pioneers of Computing," Tape 4, Science Museum, London, 1975.

Everett, Robert R., "Whirlwind," in Metropolis, N., J. Howlett, and Gian-Carlo Rota, eds., A History of Computing in the Twentieth Century, Academic Press, New York, 1980, pp. 365-384.

Forrester, Jay W., "From the Ranch to System Dynamics: An Autobiography," in Bedeian, Arthur G., ed., Management Laureates: A Collection of Autobiographical Essays, Vol. 1 of 3, JAI Press, Greenwich, Conn., 1992; also available as D-4197, System Dynamics Group, Sloan School of Management, MIT, Cambridge, Mass.

Redmond, Kent C., and Thomas M. Smith, Project Whirlwind: The History of a Pioneer Computer Digital Press, Bedford, Mass., 1980, 280 pp.

Ritchie, David, The Computer Pioneers Simon and Shuster, New York, 1986, Chapter 10.

Slater, Robert, Portraits in Silicon, MIT Press, Cambridge, Mass., 1987, Chapter 9.

Significant Publications

Forrester, Jay W., "Digital Information Storage in Three Dimensions Using Magnetic Cores," J Applied Physics, Vol. 22, No. 1, 1951, pp. 44-48.

Forrester, Jay W., "Digital Computers: Present and Future Trends," in Review of Electronic Digital Computers, joint AIEE-IRE Computer Conference, Philadelphia, December 10-12, 1951, American Institute of Electrical Engineers, New York, 1952, pp. 109-113.

Forrester, Jay W., Industrial Dynamics, Productivity Press, Cambridge, Mass., 1961, 464 pp.

Forrester, Jay W., 1968. Principles of Systems, 2ed ed., Productivity Press, Cambridge, Mass., 1961, 391 pp.

Forrester, Jay W., Urban Dynamics, Productivity Press, Cambridge, Mass., 1969, 285 pp.

Forrester, Jay W., World Dynamics, Productivity Press, Cambridge, Mass., 1971, 144 pp.; second edition (1973) has an added chapter on physical vs. social limits.

Forrester, Jay W., Collected Papers of Jay W Forrester, Productivity Press, Cambridge, Mass., 1975, 284 pp.

Forrester, Jay W., "World Models: The System-Dynamics Approach," in Marois, M., ed., Volume 4: Proceedings of the World Conference: Towards a Plan of Actions for Mankind, Pergamon Press, Oxford, UK, 1977, pp. 107-112.

Forrester, Jay W., "Global Modelling Revisited," Futures, Vol. 14, No. 2, 1982, pp. 95-110; from a lecture at the HASA Global Modelling Conference, Laxenburg, Austria, Sept. 1981.

Forrester, Jay W., "The Economy: Where is it Headed?," Los Angeles Daily News, Los Angeles, Oct. 25, 1987; also available as Report D-3937, System Dynamics Group, Sloan School of Management, MIT, Cambridge, Mass.

Forrester, Jay W., "Policies, Decisions, and Information Sources for Modeling," European Journal of Operational Research, Vol. 59, No. 1, 1992, pp. 42-63.


Forrester, Jay W., 1956. Multicoordinate Digital Information Storage Device, US Patent No. 2,736,880. Washington, D.C.: US Patent Office, 11 pp. Patent for the memory system used during most of the first 30 years of digital computers.

Forrester, Jay W., William M. Pease, James 0. McDonough, and Alfred K. Susskind. 1962. Numerical Control Servo-System, US Patent No. 3,069,608. Washington, D.C.: US Patent Office, 37 pp.


Jay Forrester died on November 16, 2016 in Concord, MA. (THVV, 2017)

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